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Social Mechanism

What does 'low turnout' mean in real numbers?

Tuesday, June 25, 2024
3 mins

Social Mechanism

by Rab Clark

We have two polls ongoing via Twitter. They haven't received anywhere near the number of votes we have become accustomed to expecting but they can still be useful to help illustrate the point we want to make.

Do you intend to vote in the UK general election?(Postals already sent count as Yes)

Yes 74.1%

No 25.9%

185 votes·8 hours left

6:12 PM · Jun 22, 2024

Off-Topic Scotland on X: "Do you intend to vote in the UK general election? (Postals already sent count as Yes)" / X

Turnout in the 2014 independence referendum was 84.59%What will the Scottish turnout be in the 2024 UK general election?

<50% 38.8%

51-65% 50.6%

66-75% 8.2%

>76% 2.4%

85 votes·2 days left

8:25 AM · Jun 23, 2024

Off-Topic Scotland on X: "Turnout in the 2014 independence referendum was 84.59% What will the Scottish turnout be in the 2024 UK general election? 🤔" / X

We can't tell if the same people voted in both polls but just let's say, for the sake of argument, that they did.

Almost 3/4 of them intend to vote but almost 90% of them expect turnout to be 65% or less.

There is no end of analysis offering explanations for the expected low turnout. What is missing from the debates generally is an acknowledgement that abstention and/or the 'repurposing' of ballots is the intention of many.

There is no agreement on the significance of 'spoiled' ballots. Are they counted? Are the candidates made aware of how many of their prospective constituents were unwilling or unable to make a choice? Are the 'messages' on spoiled ballots registered in any way? e.g. if there are 1000 spoiled votes in one constituency and they all have the same message e.g. #EndTheUnion or #NotMyParliament, is any record made of that?

Should we expect Sir John Curtice or any other psephologist/pundit to draw attention to abstention/repurposing? And if not, why not? Isn't it significant?

We remind readers of the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election last October. Michael Shanks (Labour) won the seat with 58.6% of votes cast. Sounds impressive, right? However, the turnout was only 37.19%.

That means that of the 80,918 constituents eligible to vote, only 17,634 actually supported Shanks. (And we don't even know how many of them were miseld into doing so because of the relentless and disgraceful portrayal of Margaret Ferrier as some kind of criminal.)

That's 21.8%.

No-one has suggested that the overall turnout for the general election will be lower than 40%. That, in itself, would raise obvious questions about 'a crisis of democracy'. But it does seem possible that it could be, as our small number of respondents suggest, at or around the mid-to-low 60s.

Whether or not that happens, we would like readers to consider whether or not it would be instructive for voters (and abstainers for that matter) to be given the hard data as and when results are announced.

The fact is that the people of Rutherglen & Hamilton West are represented by a man who was voted in by just over one-fifth of the constituents. The tightly-fought contests across Scotland will, of course, produce an avalanche of data over which experts will pore until the 2026 Scottish general election. What we would like to see - and be given due prominence by mainstream broadcasters and print media alike - is an accurate tally of how many voters actually cast their vote for the person who ends up representing them in Westminster. Because if that's not what 'democracy', 'openness' and 'transparency' are all about then we don't know what is.

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